Re: Ellipses

Subject: Re: Ellipses
From: Dick Margulis <margulis -at- fiam -dot- net>
To: Zola <zola -at- zolaweb -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 11 Feb 2004 20:10:21 -0500

Zola wrote:

I don't want to stray too far out of the realm of the list, so feel free to mail me privately if you know the answer, but there is an ellipse question that has been bugging me.

You can use ellipses to show a sentence that trails off or has a pause, such as:

As for the grammatical rule, I don't know...maybe we can find a reference book for it in the library.

But what if you are quoting, and the trailing off is a question?

He then said, "What the hell...?"

Is that the correct form, or is there a space in between the ellipse and question mark? I have looked this up in a number of punctuation/grammar references but can't find it. Does anyone know?


First, while ellipses is the plural, the singular is ellipsis, not ellipse. The latter is a conic section (a closed curve). You may have had difficulty finding information on it because you were looking up the wrong word. The primary meaning of ellipsis is the omission, rather than the three-dot mark that represents the omission. Different marks are used in different situations, most commonly the three spaced points, but also three spaced asterisks.

The single glyph we call the ellipsis is a recent development. It solves the problem of keeping the points from becoming separated at the end of a line. But in the days of foundry type and hot metal, compositors simply set periods and spaces, knowing enough to keep them together at the end of a line (and only when all other justification strategies failed at the beginning of a line).

Personally I think the ellipsis looks better with a space on either side of it rather than tight up against a word--and this works better in MS Office apps, because it doesn't mess up line breaks. As to whether to put a space between the ellipsis and preceding or following punctuation, that depends on the font. What you want to end up with is, as nearly as possible, the same space between the individual points as between the ellipsis and adjacent punctuation. So, if the ellipsis is at the end of the sentence, the old way was . . . . (four spaced points, three for the ellipsis and one for the terminal period). But with the single-glyph ellipsis, in some fonts you would want to set it solid.

If you do set a space before an ellipsis, make it a non-breaking space. Similarly, if what follows is a punctuation mark, the space between should be non-breaking. But if it is in the middle of a sentence and not followed by punctuation, make the following space a regular word space so the line can break there if need be.



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Legal English (was RE: Using M-dash and N-dash?): From: Downing, David
Legal English? (take II): From: Geoff Hart
Ellipses: From: Zola

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